Category Archives: Pittsburgh

State of the Heart

Pittsburghers are known for being incredibly friendly people.  It’s one of my favorite things about living in this area.

The downside of that is people here are chatty.  Really chatty.  And nebby as hell too. (That’s a colloquial term meaning that they love to find out all about your personal business.)

This phenomenon happens everywhere — not just the ‘Burgh — but it’s particularly acute in doctor’s offices. Nobody needs blathering bubble-headed bleached blondes (h/t Don Henley) on morning television in waiting rooms here because there’s no shortage of people waiting to entertain you with the minutiae of their medical history.  It’s why I always, always, always bring a book to every appointment I go to.

(That and because I cannot STAND handling magazines in public places. I’m no paranoid germaphobe, but oh my God, the idea of touching a magazine that sick people have had their paws on gives me the heebie-jeebies.)

So, yeah, I’m that person reading their book, making as little eye contact and conversation as possible. I’m an outlier among Yinzers. The Husband will disagree, but I am not a chatty or nebby person. I’ll smile and engage in pleasantries to be nice and because I know idle chit-chat is a stress-reliever for some and a way to combat the boredom of what sometimes is a long wait. And for the elderly, I understand these connections are sometimes a valued piece of social interaction.

Mind you, it’s not just the patients. Medical professionals, too, tend to be incredibly chatty. Again, I get it — customer service is what they do and you want them to be friendly and interested in you as a person and all that good stuff. Nothing wrong with this.

Except, well … I’m convinced I have some magnetic pull that attracts People Who Say Stupid Shit.

Case in point: I spent part of this morning in the cardiology lab at our local hospital for a scheduled stress test, my consolation prize for having a trifecta of high cholesterol, high triglycerides, and intermittent chest pains.

While I dreadmilled for 10 minutes, going faster and faster, one of the cardiac technicians would not shut the hell up. Maybe keeping me talking was intentional to exhaust every last bit of bit I had, but that didn’t stop her from going on about a new ice cream shop in Lawrenceville, a good 40 minutes away.

I KID YOU NOT.

I mean, I’m wearing more wires than an actor in The Sopranos, hooked up to machines, and we’re talking about flavors of fucking ICE CREAM, which is one of the main reasons I’m even in the damn cardiac lab at 8 a.m. (#JobSecurityForCardiologists, I hashtagged on Facebook.)

As my heart rate was “recovering,” she started telling me about her experience at a fairly well-known Pittsburgh attraction and its proprietor.

“He’s a bit of an oddity himself. A little Asperger-y, I think.  Very scripted. You might want to keep your kids away from him.”

Um.

Say what now?

DID SHE JUST SUGGEST I KEEP MY KIDS AWAY FROM SOMEONE WHO MAY HAVE ASPERGERS?

I may have glanced at my blood pressure on the heart monitor machine thing, since I was convinced I’d be watching my vital signs explode off the literal chart if I responded to this absurdity.

Now, although I had offered that my kids were teenage twins, this conversation hadn’t yet progressed to my saying that my son has Asperger’s — which isn’t really anybody’s nebby damn business. Instead, not wanting to screw up the results of the stress test, I muttered something like “hmmm.” Later on, I realized I should have shot back with, “Oh, you mean I should keep MY SON WHO HAS ASPERGERS away from this individual?  Is that what you mean?”

While thinking about this today, I realize that this is a big reason why I dislike and take pains to avoid superficial conversations among strangers. People say Stupid Shit and I am getting too old to deal with Stupid Shit.  And as well-meaning and unintentional as people may be, Stupid Shit often results in too many sharp jabs.

It was jarring to hear — in 2016, for godsakes — a medical professional expressing the notion that people with disabilities should be avoided. Shunned.  This kind of thinking only perpetuates ancient stereotypes, misconceptions, and myths. I am embarrassed and ashamed that I did nothing to thwart that.

I left the cardiac lab with a benediction from the cardiologist that I “performed better than average within my age group” on the stress test. My heart, it seems, is likely to keep on ticking, its dings and dents notwithstanding.

99 Days of Summer BloggingThis is post #94 of 99 in my 99 Days of Summer Blogging Project. 

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listen to your mother, the grand finale season

 

LTYM - Pre-Show Toast 2

Listen to Your Mother Pittsburgh cast, pre-show toast. May 6, 2016. Photo credit: Ashley Mikula Photography.

If you followed any aspect of my experience with Listen to Your Mother this year, you know how much being in this show meant to me. I know that’s true for all my other castmates and I’m sure its the same for those who were in Pittsburgh’s inaugural show in 2015, and everyone who has been in a LTYM production throughout the country (and Canada, this year!) since the show’s inception.

But, as they say, all good things must come to an end. Today the announcement was made: this upcoming 2017 season of Listen to Your Mother will be the show’s last. In all cities.

As disappointing as it is to hear that the show is ending, it’s good to go out on a celebratory note. And Listen to Your Mother has so much to celebrate. More than 150 shows in 54 cities. Over $100,000 raised for nonprofits supporting women and families, in local communities across the country.  Two thousand (yes, 2,000) stories shared via video on YouTube, including mine as part of Listen to Your Mother Pittsburgh 2016.

I know there are probably some of you who attended a LTYM show or watched a video or read a post and thought, “Hmm … maybe I could do that someday. Maybe next year. Maybe I have something to share.”

Or maybe you thought the opposite: that you could never do that, but you secretly wish you could.

Here’s the thing.  Sometimes this life presents us with opportunities that we think we’re incapable of doing.  Or, maybe we think we’re not ready right now.  I admit, I had some of those doubts as I wrote my story and even after I was selected for the show.  I questioned whether I was in a strong enough place to talk about this (the answer: yes).

Opportunities are ours for the taking. Sometimes they disappear.

There’s no room for maybes in this too short life.

You never know who needs to hear your story. If you feel you have a something to share, don’t wait. Auditions are usually held in late-winter/early spring. All you have to do is put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and write what’s in your heart.  And if you don’t have a story to share, the same goes for attending a show, which can be just as life-changing. I guarantee you, something will resonate with you in each story you hear.

So, yes, while I’m sad that Listen to Your Mother is ending, I’m so very, very grateful to have been part of this extraordinary experience, for this opportunity that has inspired others in my life.  I’m so appreciative to our Pittsburgh producers, Jennifer, Stephanie, and Amanda for all their hard work in creating a wonderful show, one that has been recognized with a Best of the Burgh award (seriously, around here that is a BIG DEAL). I’m so glad this show has connected me with some of the bravest, most courageous and strongest women — strangers once, now treasured friends.

And especially, I’m thankful to Ann Imig, founder of Listen to Your Mother, for her vision and belief that motherhood deserved a microphone and in so doing, provided so many of us with the chance to share our stories with countless people throughout the world, knowing our experiences — and our lives — matter.

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Restaurant Review: Sienna Mercato, Pittsburgh, PA

After spending the day Downtown on Wednesday, I met up with a former coworker for drinks and appetizers at Sienna Mercato (942 Penn Avenue, Pittsburgh). Although I hadn’t been there before, I’d eaten previously at their sister restaurant a short distance away, Sienna On the Square. I remembered that my meal — with The Girl, before last year’s One Direction concert at Heinz Field — was very, very good.

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(These are pictures from Sienna on the Square.  I wish I could remember what we had, but I do know it was damn good.  Anyway, I’m using these because I need a related picture for this post but I didn’t take pictures at dinner on Wednesday and I didn’t want to take an image off of Sienna Mercato’s social media without asking permission first.)

Anyway, yes. Back to the present day and Sienna Mercato, which has a tagline of Good. Times. Three.  This restaurant is unique in that they have three dining establishments under one roof.

Emporio: A Meatball Joint features gourmet meatballs, soups, salads, etc. as well as a full bar with 32 draft beers, wines, and cocktails. It’s located on the ground floor. Upstairs, Mezzo highlights Italian fare including house made charcuterie, wood-fired pizzas, savory panini, creative pastas, and fine wines. Finally, Il Tetto is a rooftop beer garden and a perfect atmosphere for an outdoor gathering. They offer drafts, wine, cocktails and light fare.

My friend and I opted for Emporio because of the happy hour specials; we ordered wine, thinking it was cheaper than it was based on misunderstanding our waitress’ explanation, but no big deal.

Emporio is known for their gourmet meatballs.  Choices are classic beef (“grandma’s secret”); spicy pork (chili pepper, herbs); vegetarian (mushroom, white beans and cauliflower); and chicken (parmesan and herbs).  Only the chicken version  is gluten free, which my friend chose and which presented me (a gluten free vegetarian) with a dilemma. I hedged my bets on the meat being more problematic for my crazy messed up stomach and went for the vegetarian.

I will say that the vegetarian and gluten free distinctions are very clearly marked on Emporio’s menu (and yes, I could have selected something GF, but I really, really wanted a meatball.)

A sauce comes with the meatball and guests have their choice of marinara (vegetarian and GF); pork bolognese; creamy parmesan (vegetarian); chicken gravy; government cheese (vegetarian); mushroom gravy (vegetarian); arribiatta (vegetarian and gluten free); tzatziki (vegetarian and gluten free); spinach-almond pesto (vegetarian and gluten free) and chicken-chili. Adding serving options are as sliders, paninis, grinders, or over a side — including a gluten free pasta.

I was undecided between the tzatziki, the marinara, and the spinach-almond pesto and wound up selecting the tzatziki, again on my friend’s recommendation.  (She has never steered me wrong in the almost 3 years that I’ve known her.)

The meatballs are presented in a little silver bowl with a small flag that says “Emporio.”  SO FREAKING CUTE. You can see it here.

As my friend and I talked and ate and drank our wine, I realized I was hungrier than I thought. We perused the sides, deciding on a basket of tater tots. These arrived piping hot and crispy. Our waitress was very pleasant and very accommodating throughout the meal.

Sienna Mercato was a perfect place to catch up after work while enjoying a drink and snack-type dinner. The meatballs more than earn their reputation.  Next time I’d plan to try them over the penne and with their vegetarian, gluten-free marinara sauce or the pesto.

All in all, a wonderful dining experience which I recommend and look forward to repeating.

99 Days of Summer BloggingThis is post #68 of 99 in my 99 Days of Summer Blogging project. 

 

 

 

 

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at the moment between inclusion and erasure

Japan massacre

You know that feeling you get when you realize you’re among like-minded souls who really, really get it, who understand what should be so evident and obvious to everyone else?

It’s an amazing feeling, isn’t it?  Understanding and acceptance wrapped up in group hugs and warm fuzzies.

It almost doesn’t matter what the it happens to be — and no, for once I’m not talking politics.   (Well, not really.)

On Wednesday, I spent some time at a national conference being held here in Pittsburgh with people who are passionate about making cultural organizations more accessible to people with disabilities. At this conference, guide dogs, wheelchairs, and assistive technology were the norm as attendees navigated the hotel’s conference rooms.

I was at the conference for work-related reasons, but it didn’t really feel like work. As a parent of a teenager with autism, I couldn’t help but remember The Boy’s early years — the black hole years, as I refer to them. The days when I couldn’t even take my toddler twins to storytime at the library because while The Girl would sit quietly, rapt and enthralled, The Boy would be a constant blur of motion, running for the door, making distracting noises.  The idea of going to a museum or a movie or a musical was absurd; hell, we could barely go to a park five minutes away without half a day’s preparations — and usually the exhaustion of chasing, chasing, chasing after The Boy or dealing with the stares or the inevitable meltdown became too much.

I realize now how much we truly missed out on, and it makes me angry and sad. Opportunities and experiences that are childhood mainstays were forever lost to us because there weren’t accommodations to make such outings easier or meaningful ones for our family — and especially, our boy.

Things have changed a lot in the 12 years since those dark days — in our family and, as I realized yesterday, at cultural organizations across the United States. (And I mean from all states; one session seemed like a roll call of delegates with people representing states from Montana to Massachusetts and everywhere in between.)  There’s exciting programming happening — and Pittsburgh is certainly taking its place among them with a growing number of sensory-friendly performances and accommodations at the ballet and symphony and festivals.

This post could end right here if I didn’t happen to check my phone during a break between conference sessions.

While daring to feel that things were improving, to hope for a day in my lifetime or my children’s lifetimes when people with disabilities are fully included and (dare I dream?) accepted in our society and (dare I wish?) not shot when others misunderstand the reasons behind their behaviors — my full heart suddenly felt punctured, like a water balloon.

There, on the conference floor amidst the guide dogs and the wheelchairs and the advocates and the people championing the needs of people like my kid, there I stood reading my friend Elizabeth Aquino’s post “Erasure” which was prompted by  Emily Willingham’s Forbes article “This Is What Disability Erasure Looks Like.”

I read both posts, which are vehement responses to the July 26 massacre in Japan that killed 19 people and left an additional 26 injured at a residential care facility for people with disabilities. A deliberate slaughter, this attack was, and one that was forewarned in a letter by the perpetrator in chilling detail.

“I envision a world where a person with multiple disabilities can be euthanized, with an agreement from the guardians, when it is difficult for the person to carry out household and social activities,” the letter said.

[His] letter said he could “wipe out a total of 470 disabled individuals” by targeting two facilities for disabled people during the night shift, “when staffing is low”.

“The act will be carried out speedily, and definitely without harming the staff. After wiping out the 260 people in two facilities, I will turn myself in.”

As Emily’s article for Forbes states, this heinous act came on July 26, exactly 26 years to the day that the Americans With Disabilities Act was signed in 1990.

Which was the focus of the conference I was at, where we were talking about accessibility and inclusion.

I felt, at that very moment, stuck between two opposite forces: One that embraces and welcomes people with disabilities, including them in programs that were once inaccessible, and the other hell bent on erasing people with disabilities from the face of the earth.  

The danger is becoming complacent about stories like the massacre in Japan, of turning away or not reading because “it’s too much.”  Make no mistake: this massacre may have happened in Japan but there’s every reason to believe that this could have — and certainly has the potential — to happen here in the United States.  As Emily wrote, one only needs to look at the incidents that have already occurred.

  • An autistic man sitting on the ground, playing with a toy truck, and being the real target of the bullets that found their way to the black man trying to protect him.
  • Presidential nominees who mock disabled people and the people who defend the mockery.
  • A society that thinks any behavior that’s not “normal“ deserves to be publicly jeered.
  • Widespread abuse of and violence against disabled people, around the world.

We cannot and must not be complacent about this.  We owe it to all people with disabilities — the ones who came before and the ones who will come afterwards — to include them, to celebrate them, to elevate their stories and their lives against the evil that would silence their lives.

It is the very least we can do in remembrance of 19 people erased from this world.

Please consider taking a few moments to read in its entirety Emily Willingham’s 7/27/2016 article in Forbes (“This Is What Disability Erasure Looks Like”) and Elizabeth Aquino’s blog post “Erasure.”  Also worth the read is Ellen Seidman of Love That Max: “The massacre of people with disability and what parents can do.”

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Between the Dark and the Daylight: Embracing the Contradictions of Life, by Joan Chittister

Between the Dark and the DaylightInsomnia and I have become rather close lately. Granted, we don’t see each other every night —  it can be weeks or even months between our unhappy hours — but suffice it to say we know each other well.

Our family has had an incredibly difficult year. Those of you who are regular readers here (and, of course, family and friends who know us personally) know there isn’t a single area of our lives that hasn’t undergone some sort of major, significant life-changing hit in the past 12 months. Our work, longtime friendships, health, finances, issues with the kids … each of these has been impacted to the point that we’ve been questioning everything — our past decisions, our present realities. It is the darkest stretch of time since what I refer to as “the black hole years” of The Boy’s autism diagnosis 12 years ago.

That doesn’t always make for a restful night’s sleep. Add into all that our country’s unending violence, relentless heartbreak, and a downright nightmarish presidential election season that has tempers blazing, including that of one unhinged, dangerous and completely unfit candidate, and it’s no wonder I find myself up at night.

I’ve been seeking words of wisdom, binging on current and back episodes of “On Being” and most especially craving spiritually-focused books.  Not religious works, because religion doesn’t necessarily work for me these these days, but books that have the ability to ease the tension (if only for the few brief minutes of reading before bedtime), provide some insight or new perspective. A spiritual salve, if you will, for navigating the hurts of this scary, confusing, uncertain world.

As soon as I started Between the Dark and the Daylight, it was like Joan Chittister was writing just for me. From the first two pages:

“There is a part of the soul that stirs at night, in the dark and soundless times of day, when our defenses are down and our daylight distractions no longer serve to protect us from ourselves. What we suppress in the light emerges clearly in the dusk. It’s then, in the still of life, when we least expect it, that questions emerge from the damp murkiness of our inner underworld. Questions with ringtones that call the soul to alert but do not come with ready resolutions. Questions about life, not about the trivia of dailiness. The kind of questions to which there is no one answer but which, nevertheless, plague us for attention if we are ever to move through the dimness of life’s twists and turns with confidence.

These questions do not call for the discovery of data; they call for the contemplation of possibility.”

I read those words — yes, I confess, sometime around 3:30 in the morning — and was instantly awake. This is not a book about conquering insomnia, but rather one that addresses the dark issues of the soul. I don’t mean “dark” as in a harmful or dangerous way. More in terms of the anxieties and complacencies that can be so powerful in preventing us from moving forward in our lives.

In this book, it’s not necessarily what Joan Chittister is saying — it’s how she says it.  There’s a gentleness and calmness to her prose that is incredibly soothing. Perhaps that shouldn’t be surprising as Joan Chittister is a member of the Benedictine Sisters of Erie, PA. (That said, by no means is this book heavy-handed with theology; quite the contrary.)

The author of more than 50 books, she has an extensive, impressive biography spanning decades of accomplishments as an “outspoken advocate of justice, peace and equality — especially for women world-wide.” (source: Joan Chittister).  And, best of all, she was born in Allegheny County, so she’s a Pittsburgher!

I’m almost embarrassed to say that I hadn’t heard of Joan Chittister before discovering Between the Dark and the Daylight while browsing at the library. But I strongly believe that books and their authors find us at the precise time we need them, and Between the Dark and the Daylight is definitely one of them. Highly recommended, especially during these troubled times for so many of us and our world.

Between the Dark and the Daylight: Embracing the Contradictions of Life
by Joan Chittister
Image 
2015
176 pages

99 Days of Summer BloggingThis is post #65 of 99 in my 99 Days of Summer Blogging project

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listen to your mother pittsburgh 2016, the official show photos

I’m still in awe of the incredible experience that was Listen to Your Mother. All the emotions came flooding right back as soon as we received the official show photos on Monday.

We need to wait a little bit longer for the videos, but I promise to share them as soon as I get the official word.  Till then, here are a few images that capture the excitement and joy of the evening — with credit given to Ashley Mikula Photography for each one.

LTYM - Melissa on stage rehearsal 5-6-2016

Me, making the other ladies in the cast laugh during dress rehearsal.

LTYM Pre-Show Toast LTYM - Pre-Show Toast 2

Pre-show toast.

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Walking onstage to applause and Sara Bareilles’ “Brave.”

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Onstage, sharing the most personal story of my life. Perhaps the most nerve-wracking and empowering five minutes I’ve ever experienced.

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Audience reaction during my piece.

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Standing ovation by more than 400 people.

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Final bow.

99 Days of Summer BloggingThis is post #45 of 99 of my 99 Days of Summer Blogging project. 

 

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many grains of sand (40/99)

Before leaving work this afternoon, I stopped by the Sand City Spectacular tent again, this time to see the artists put their finishing touches on their masterpieces.

Today was the last day of this competition (which I wrote about on Wednesday) and also a celebration to kick off Pittsburgh’s bicentennial.

The final products are amazing.  There are five sand sculptures, so intricately detailed. I think I matched the right photos up with the right sculpture (although I’m not quite sure).  I hope so.

Sandcastles - Andy Warhol 2 - 7-8-2016Sandcastles - Andy Warhol 1 - 7-8-2016

Sandcastles 2 - 7-8-2016Sandcastles - 2 - 7-8-2016

Sandcastles - 7-8-2016 2Sandcastles 7-8-2016Sandcastles 6 - 7-8-2016Sandcastles 5 -7-8-2016

Sandcastles 4 - 7-8-2016Sandcastles -3 - 7-8-2016

In the aftermath of this difficult, tragic, and ugly week, it was nice to spend just a few moments amidst beauty.  And it occurred to me that these works of art are — when you really, really think of it — individual grains of sand that together make something quite remarkable.  Individual grains of sand that ten people spent more than 50 hours this week to shape into something awe-inspiring.

I know it’s naive to hope for a similar transformation for this broken world of ours. I’m not sure if that’s even possible.  Still, I believe we have to try, to do our part. At lunch today my coworkers and I talked about the events in the news. We talked about whether things were getting worse or if these tensions had always existed but we were just seeing more of them. We talked about how helpless we felt and how fixing this seemed insurmountable. It’s such a layered, complex issue, we said.  We wondered out loud how one even could even begin to start.

It starts right here, I said, with each of us.  With being willing to engage in these kinds of conversations. I said this was pretty damn transformational in and of itself, given that we were three professional women– one who is African-American — having lunch and talking about race. We weren’t going to come up with any solutions at our lunch table — we knew that. But we could say that we saw another person’s reality.  We could say that we see each other and at the same time, we are afraid of saying the wrong thing, of offending someone.

And we did … we said all that. We really did.

What difference can one person, one grain of sand make? Sometimes it doesn’t seem like much.

Yet we’re all that is holding together this world. This incredibly fragile creation.

Sandcastles 5 -7-8-2016

99 Days of Summer BloggingThis is post #40 of 99 in my 99 Days of Summer Blogging project. 

 

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